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Ask the expert: Soliciting staff to complain


Ask the expertWhat action should an employer take against a disgruntled employee who is soliciting staff to make complaints against a manager? Esther Smith, partner at Thomas Eggar, and Martin Brewer, partner at Mills & Reeve, advise.

The question:

A very disgruntled member of staff has been soliciting current and ex-employees to complain against a senior manager. What action can be taken against this staff member and how much credence should be placed on any complaints that are received?

Legal advice:

Esther Smith, partner, Thomas Eggar

If the complaints are being solicited without any grounds at all or are being solicited on a malicious or even discriminatory basis, then you could potentially discipline the employee who is soliciting them, but I doubt that they are completely without foundation.

If the employees who are asked for complaints freely offer them up, then this suggests there may be a genuine cause for concern with the manager in question. However, it sounds as if the disgruntled employee is the issue rather than the manager here.

If the complaints are made by others by way of grievances then the company is entitled to take account of the context in which the complaints have been made. The fact that an employee has only put in a complaint or grievance at the request of someone else who has an axe to grind, suggests that their complaint is either not well founded, not sufficiently serious or lacking in supporting evidence. This can all be taken into account when making a decision on the outcome of the grievance / complaint process.

Esther Smith is a partner in Thomas Eggar’s Employment Law Unit. For further information, please visit Thomas Eggar.

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Martin Brewer, partner and employment law specialist, Mills & Reeve

I’m not sure what action you had in mind nor why you think it necessary at this stage. The fact is that unless and until you investigate the complaints against the senior manager, you won’t know whether they are justified nor, as you say, how much credence to give them.

You have an obligation to investigate grievances so perhaps you need to concentrate on that first. If the complaints turn out to be wholly unjustified, perhaps even malicious, then you may well have a breach of trust and confidence issue with the employee in question. But I stress you won’t know this until you have investigated.

None of this prevents you speaking to the employee and suggesting that whilst this staff member is entitled to raise complaints, and that you will deal with them, he or she should at least go about it in a way which is less public and less potentially destructive, because at present they are just complaints and the senior manager deserves to be treated with appropriate respect, and have his or her privacy and confidentiality respected. In other words, he or she should behave rather more professionally than appears to be the case to date.

Martin Brewer can be contacted at For further information, please visit Mills & Reeve.

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